“I just don’t like heights!” laments Ohio bowhunter John Christainer.
Today, between the cover pages of bowhunting magazines and around the bowhunting campfires of North America, more emphasis is being placed on pursuing whitetails from the ground. Truth is, simple and unencumbered ground stand hunting can be as effective as using treestands placed at nosebleed elevations. Consider the record of bowhunter John Christainer, who has taken nearly 30 whitetails while hunting from the ground, including trophy-class bucks.
Besides his aversion to high places among the tree branches, Christainer, who operates Twig Archery near Conesville, Ohio, says, “I also don’t like the steep shot angle you get from a treestand.”
Why does he hunt whitetails with both his feet planted on terra firma?
“The kill zone is much larger from the ground,” he reasons. “That reduces the chance for a bad hit.”
Though Christainer admits he occasionally (albeit reluctantly) hunts from treestands, he refuses to climb more than 12 to 15 feet. He’s learned the hard way this frequently isn’t high enough for the educated whitetails he hunts mainly on public land in southeast Ohio. Savvy hunters in these parts believe treestands must be a minimum of 18 feet above the ground. If you don’t want to hunt from the stratosphere, you still have an excellent chance of hunting undetected from a well-placed, well-hidden ground stand.
Break The Mental Block
A mental preconception can prevent many bowhunters from trying ground stands. Those accustomed to lofty tree perches can feel more exposed on the ground. Christainer never had to overcome this apprehension because he got hooked on bowhunting as a youngster in the 1960s. At that time, treestand hunting was just catching on, and commercially produced treestands were not readily available. Bowhunting from the ground was simply the accepted and predominant hunting method of the time.
Lacking a mentor to show him the ropes, Christainer’s first whitetail was a long time coming. Years of trial and error gradually taught him when and where deer move, and how to avoid a whitetail’s keen eyes, ears, and nose. Learning how to draw and shoot at close range without spooking the quarry was the equivalent of a doctoral thesis in those early days.
Christainer relies on full camouflage clothing, a nylon netting face mask, and natural undergrowth to break up his human form. He typically sets up in a thicket or some other dense cover within 20 yards of a path or funnel frequented by whitetails. He cuts a cubby hole and a shooting lane into the thicket using pruning snips.
It’s imperative no branches remain to possibly interfere with the bow during the shot. Leaves and twigs beneath the hunter also must be raked away to eliminate unwanted noises during movement.
Because setting up in this manner takes only minutes, it affords an ease of mobility treestand hunters only dream of. You can move to a new location on a whim. And if the wind direction does a 180 after you’ve already set up, you can quickly change places to put the wind to your advantage.
Ohio hunter Julie Hall also makes use of natural surroundings when hunting from ground stands with her crossbow. A past president of the Buckeye Big Buck Club, Hall has taken several nice bucks from the ground. A back injury prevents her from climbing trees.
Hall constructs sparse, makeshift blinds from materials she finds around the stand site. In a cornfield, she uses cornstalks. When she sets up with her back to a tree, she pieces together limbs and other cover available on the ground nearby.
“You only need enough cover to breakup your outline,” says Hall. “I’ve had does pass by me just two rows over in standing corn. They never knew I was there.”
Hall’s husband, Buzz, usually hunts from treestands with his compound bow. But on two occasions he has followed his wife’s lead and taken bucks from ground stands in places where trees suitable for treestands were not present.
Featured photo by John Hafner